Golfers scramble to save course near Milwaukee

Cathy Kozlowicz/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Golfers scramble to save course near Milwaukee

Courses

Golfers scramble to save course near Milwaukee

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More than 100 golfers gathered at Wanaki Golf Course in Menomonee Falls on Monday in the wake of its announced closure, some to share personal memories of the course, some to suggest financial solutions and others to voice frustration with the county.

Joe Vachuska, president of the men’s golf club at Wanaki, said he would share the comments with the county board. He added that future meetings would include discussions on ways to save the course.

Last week, county officials announced plans to include the course closure in the proposed 2020 county budget. The announcement came after a decade of financial losses at the course — from $41,000 to $243,000 annually, according to Dale Shaver, director of the Waukesha County Department of Parks and Land Use.

If it stayed open another year, Wanaki would celebrate its 50th year.

“I never heard before that it would close,” said Vachuska. He said that if he had, a solution to keep it open could have already been implemented.

“I was shocked when I found out,” he said. “We would like to see continued support (of the course).”

Vachuska acknowledged that last year was not a good year for Wanaki — the course lost $385,000 in revenues because of a rainy season that resulted in 40 days lost. But he added that this year’s season is strong at Wanaki.

County Supervisor Timothy Dondlinger, whose 5th District includes the golf course, said he received more emails about concerns of the golf course closing than any other issue since he has been elected to the board.

“All the feedback was to keep it open. I want to do everything to keep it going. I am committed to keeping it going, but we have to come up with a way to make it work, financially.

“The way it is going, it will take down all the golf courses (Waukesha’s Moor Downs and Delafield’s Naga-Waukee) in Waukesha County,” he said. “We all need to work together to make Wanaki a viable portion of the golf course package in Waukesha County.”

The other county board supervisor who was in attendance, Jim Batzko who represents District 4 in the town of Lisbon and village of Sussex, said the announced closure took him by surprise. “I have a personal investment. My son works here,” he said. “I am here to listen to all of you.”

‘A quality of life’

Golfer Randy Nick called the Wanaki closing a quality-of-life issue. “The county funds all the maintenance, hiking trails and green spaces that don’t generate a dime,” he said. “These courses generate revenue.”

Waukesha County’s golf courses do not receive any taxpayer support, but instead are paid for through user fees, golf cart rentals and concessions.

Nick said that even if someone does not play golf, it is still important to have the course in the community. He drew a parallel, saying that schools are still important, even when specific residents don’t have children enrolled.

Some residents have taken it upon themselves to start the Save Wanaki Golf Course petition on Change.org. According to that petition, Wanaki hosted the Wisconsin Public Links Association’s premier 36-Hole Championship and three major high school tournaments. It also hosts many leagues, such as a 270-member men’s club, a 75-member ladies 18-hole league and more than 250 members of the junior golfer league.

Residents have also set up a Save Wanaki Facebook page and a website, savewanaki.org.

“It would be just crushing (if it closed),” said Brookfield East High School golf coach Chris Minchk. “I see many golfers in this crowd. If we don’t have this facility, we would have to combine programs. I am shocked this is on the table. For me, it is all about problem solving.”

He said he encouraged his students to send emails to county officials and to find ways to keep the course open.

Pete Berry, who grew up about two miles from the course, said he worked at the golf course when he was 15 and that it was a valuable experience.

“Some of the workers become cops and teachers. I learned a lot while working there,” he said. He has golfed at the course for 39 years, he said.

Berry is a teacher and girls golf coach at Racine Case High School. He added that the girls golf team hosts an invitational there. “They are upset. People who golfed (at Racine Case) eight to 10 years ago are upset.”

“I will do whatever we can,” he said. In the meantime, he is encouraging everyone to keep playing at the golf course this summer.

“Let’s keep playing here to raise dollars,” he said.

Raise the fees?

Claire Metro, who golfs at Naga-Waukee and at Wanaki once a week, voiced concern over an inequity in the fees. It costs $40.50 to golf at Naga-Waukee, but only $33 to golf at Wanaki, she said.

“Wanaki is just as good. We should pay more to golf there,” she said.

After the meeting, she told a reporter that the cost to golf at Wanaki has not increased, and it should.

“This is a great golf course,” she said. “I want to see it open.” She, as well as other golfers in attendance, said they would willingly pay an extra $10 a round to keep the golf course open.

“We are just as good as Naga-Waukee. Why aren’t we paying more?” asked Metro.

Other people suggested using corporate sponsorships, getting a liquor license and possibly reorganizing as a nonprofit.

“There is a lot of revenue potential,” said Alex Eichelberger, a certified public accountant and a former golfer at Brookfield Central. He suggested several ways to generate more revenue: having a license to sell hard liquor, setting up simulators in the winter, more outings and league play, and charging more in certain areas.

“Let’s set up some goals. I am really hopeful we can come up to a solution,” Eichelberger said.

Next steps

Sarah Spaeth, legislative policy adviser with Waukesha County, said the county board will see the proposed budget Sept. 24. Supervisors are expected to vote on it Nov. 12. She said there will be an open meeting Sept. 25 with the time and the location to be determined.

Vachuska said people can email comments to savewanaki@gmail.com. Vachuska reiterated that he will share those comments with county officials.

“We want to work with the county,” said Vachuska.

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